2016 Fantasy Baseball Targets: ‘Always Sunny’ Edition

All good things in life come with an expiration date. That leftover pizza will go bad sooner or later. You’ll eventually live long enough to watch the athletes you grew up idolizing wither away and retire. When forced to keep churning out content long enough, the best TV shows will run out of ideas and fade to mediocrity.

Some shows (Breaking Bad, Parks and Recreation) have the wherewithal to quit while they’re ahead. Others are forced into early retirement, creating Netflix gems (Freaks and Greaks, Better Off Ted, Terriers) that didn’t live long enough to decline. Then there’s Arrested Development, which started as the former but is in grave danger of deteriorating into the latter.

When comedies stick around, it often tarnishes its legacy with diminishing results. See the past decade of The Simpsons and The Office post-Steve Carrell. Yet there are always exceptions to the rule.

It’s Always in Philadelphia should have run its course by now. How long can viewers enjoy watching a group of horrible human beings waste their lives and drag all bystanders down with them, all without showing any signs of growth? In any other sitcom, The Gang would have found perfect love interests and career paths by now. Not Dennis, Dee, Charlie, Mac and Frank, who up the ante on their gruesome behavior on a weekly basis.

Against all common logic, it’s still awesome. The recently concluded 11th season was as funny as sharp as any other in the FX show’s illustrious run. Already renewed for a 12th season, Always Sunny still runs circles around newer comedies desperately trying to replicate its tone while somehow making unlikeable assholes likeable.

Most baseball players follow The Office career arc, succumbing to overused tropes and rusty limbs. Injuries are always a heightened concern for older guys; Jhonny Peralta, out for two-to-three months with a thumb injury, would have received recognition if I wrote this two weeks ago.

Some, like the owners of Paddy’s Pub, simply won’t go away. These aren’t flashy, exciting picks. None of them are even champions of the sun or experts in bird law. But as drafters annually assume this is the year they bottom out, a savvy manager can snag bargains in the form of trustworthy veterans.

David Ortiz, DH, Boston Red Sox

Addressing Fenway Park after the Boston Marathon bombings, David Ortiz proudly dropped an F-bomb to gaudy cheers from parents and children alike. There’s no better representative for what Always Sunny has accomplished over the years.

Big Papi enters his final season with a No. 82 average-draft position, according to Fantasy Pros, which leaves him selected after the likes of Adam Wainwright, Ian Kinsler and Yasiel Puig. Adrian Gonzalez (60) and Prince Fielder (69) are going much higher despite offering similar, if not inferior production last year:

David Ortiz: 614 PA, .273/.360/.553, 37 HR, 108 RBI, 73 R, 138 wRC+

Adrian Gonzalez: 643 PA, .275/.360/.480, 28 HR, 90 RBI, 76 R, 129 wRC+

Prince Fielder: 692 PA, .305/.378/.463, 23 HR, 98 RBI, 78 R, 124 wRC+

Power always come at a premium, and Ortiz is one of six players to crush more than 100 homers over the last three seasons. The other guys are all grabbed inside the top 40, but not Ortiz, the only player with an active streak of three straight 30-homer, 100-RBI campaigns.

He only played nine games at first base, so most owners must employ him in a utility spot. Fine with me. Extreme shifts have reduced his average, but he routinely crushes the ball with hard-hit percentages above 40. Maybe he hits .260, but it won’t dip any lower. Again, totally fine for an elite power bat.

He gave everyone quite by a scare last season, entering the All-Star break hitting .231/.326/.435. Some drafters probably fear the 40-year-old capitulating to another funk he can’t break this time. Considering he then batted .325/.401/.701, a healthy Ortiz should close out his career strong.

Curtis Granderson, OF, New York Mets

Before upping his batting average to .257 last year, Curtis Granderson previously hit .232, .229 and .227. Those results have everyone expecting regression in 2016, but don’t discredit sizable improvements the Grandy Man made to erase a liability.

Despite a weak first year with the Mets, the right fielder was still inserted into the leadoff role. He responded with a career-high 27.0 line-drive percentage and 37.0 hard-hit rate. Even while ending 22.1 percent of his plate appearances via strikeout, he swung at less pitches outside the strike zone (O-Swing %), made more contact and whiffed far less often (SwStr %) than the previous two seasons:

2013: 31.3 O-Swing %, 69.5 Contact %, 13.6 SwStr %

2014: 26.2 O-Swing %, 76.8 Contact %, 9.7 SwStr %

2015: 20.5 O-Swing %, 81.6 Contact %, 6.9 SwStr %

If all these improvements stick, another .250-.260 average isn’t out of the question. That’s more than enough to make him a superb No. 3 outfielder in all leagues. Last year, he scored 98 runs despite playing most of the first half with Eric Campbell, John Mayberry and Kevin Plawecki in the lineup. Over the final two months, after the Mets promoted Michael Conforto, welcomed back David Wright and Travis d’Arnaud, and acquired Yoenis Cespedes, Granderson crossed home plate 45 times in 54 games.

Throw in 20 homers and 10 steals, and he makes an enticing bargain at his No. 138 going rate. He’s also easily a top 100 option in leagues substituting batting average for on-base percentage.

 

Francisco Rodriguez, RP, Detroit Tigers

Few people are afforded the same loyalty of an experienced closer. It doesn’t matter if their skills erode or younger teammates surpass their productivity, MLB managers live and die with veterans who have accumulated saves in the past.

With more ninth-inning uncertainty than ever this spring, drafters may gravitate more toward positional scarcity. Jonathan Papelbon and Huston Street are boring regression candidates, but they’re not going anywhere

Francisco Rodriguez goes in the same tier, netting a No. 124 ADP compared to Papelbon’s No. 128 and Street’s 129. Despite their tight grouping, Rodriguez is comfortably the best of the veteran trio.

For starters, gamers should desire high-strikeout relievers, especially in leagues with a tight innings cap. Nicknamed for his gaudy punchout tallies 14 years ago, K-Rod has fanned at least one batter per inning every season. Last year, he set down 62 batters in 57 innings.

He has also exhibited sharper command, issuing a career-low 11 walks to give him a 23.6 strikeout-minus-walks percentage (K-BB%). That figure ranks slightly ahead of Wade Davis.

Rodriguez benefited from a .234 BABIP, which foreshadows regression for his 2.21 ERA and 0.86 WHIP. His draft cost, however, already reflects an expected dropoff. Given his 70.7 contact percentage, 2.91 FIP and 2.42 SIERA, we’re not talking a major decline.

Anyone who misses on desirable low-level No. 1 closers (Zach Britton, Ken Giles, Cody Allen, David Robertson) can pivot to K-Rod, who offers enough security to gamble on high-upside relievers (Jake McGee, Brad Boxberger, Sean Doolittle) later.

All advanced statistics courtesy of FanGraphs unless otherwise noted. 

 

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